[continued from History of the West Coast Nonprofit Data Conference]

As we reflect on the past and think about the future, we have very different thoughts. Joe focuses on the link between the nonprofit sector and the communities in which the sector is embedded. In his 2004 opening remarks at the first WCNDC he posed a number of research questions. Some now seem naïve (since we know the answers), but others still remain relevant.

He began by simply asking, is there a nonprofit sector west of the Mississippi? So many of ARNOVA’s members are situated in the Midwest and East coast that one gets the impression that nonprofits and philanthropy don’t exist out here. Is that true? Of course not, but the sector and particularly philanthropy is different in the West because of the culture and economics. That has been well documented over the last ten years.

Related to the distinct history of the West, he also asked is the nonprofit sector responsive to the growing Hispanic population in the southwest? Are Hispanics starting nonprofits or are NPs still non-Hispanic institutions with a distinct Anglo flavor? What about social movement organizations? This question still seems under-researched and relevant today.

Can you have a nonprofit sector in communities that are lacking social capital? This question was naïve because it did not recognize that there were many different communities spread throughout the West where social capital was plentiful. Yet these communities did not always spawn traditional nonprofit institutions suggesting that the nonprofits and social capital are not always tightly coupled.

While some of the old questions still need to be addressed there are other issues to examine in the years ahead.

This recession feels different than before. Previously there was pain and then the economy recovered. Now the effects linger and the middle class seems to be weakening.   What are the effects on: philanthropy, nonprofit sustainability, donations, and government funding? Is this the ‘new normal’ or will things bounce back again? This is a serious issue in the West where the recession hit hardest.

The baby boomers are graying and retirements are imminent. There are many cross-generational issues: the transfer of vast sums of wealth, turnover in the nonprofit sector, and the technological divide to name just a few that impact the sector. The technological divide is especially important for service delivery, fund-raising, accountability, communication, administration, everything!

Social enterprises are new organizational forms. Are they viable forms? What is the impact of commercialization on the established nonprofits? What happens when the social enterprise model works its way into so-called establishment nonprofits? Will the new culture displace the old or will there just be turf wars?

It seems that communities are vulnerable to a variety of disasters, e.g., natural disasters, terrorist attacks, financial crises, epidemics. This is due to globalization and the interconnectedness of everything. What multi-sector structures are needed to 1) meet the immediate needs, 2) rebuild infrastructure, 3) rebuild families, and 4) insulate communities from these? Collaborations have been around for awhile and have lost some of their luster, however, they are going to be critical in the future and nonprofits have to learn how to be partners in community problem solving.

Finally, the future is mixed methods. Researcher will not only have to do surveys of various kinds, but they will also need to know GIS and qualitative data analysis. Furthermore, nonprofit researchers have to get into ‘big data’ and mining data off the web. It’s time for nonprofit researchers to network with computer science.

Reflections on Nonprofit Sector Policy

Joseph Galaskiewicz and Helmut Anheier
April 2013
Berkeley, CA